May you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Times are trying these days, let’s make the best of it!
I listen to PBS in the mornings and this morning, I heard an entire show looking into the new nuclear power plants. Are we finally going to admit that nuke power has a strategic place in managing our chaotic climate? As noted in recent posts, I joined the US Navy nuclear machinist program in my teens!
I live in the most beautiful yet most filthy state in the US: Kentucky. The birds, trees, flowers, rivers, the entire state could be a natural haven. Except that for over a hundred years Kentucky has jabbed and stabbed nature with deep coal mines and worse, the open strip mines where gigantic monster bulldozers scrape entire forests and the wildlife away to get to that coal. This is all over the state, not just the eastern Appalachian part.
Where I live in western Ky between Owensboro and Bowling Green there were two strip mines that were much too close; I passed them going to college, the store. One in Hartford, one in Paradise. Remember the song? “Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay? I’m sorry my son, you’re too late in asking; Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” – John Prine. He gets into gory details, too.
The nuke power we know was based on the US Navy Admiral Rickover’s new submarines that could stay out for months at a time without refueling, submarines that went under the Arctic ice cap. That was revolutionary for our military.
I got out and worked at San Onofre, the three-reactor site in San Luis Obispo, California. I worked in the reactor compartments, around the waste, doing repairs, I wrote in the newsletter, planned high radiation jobs. I got an award for my high rad work planning article in the Nuclear News, the industry magazine. I worked in on-site drills for nuke safety with four area hospital emergency rooms.
Waste was the biggest issue. Now the tech is ready to not only make a TMI event impossible but also not add to the hidden piles of high rad waste deep in the Rockies and elsewhere. In my Elise t’Hoot Galactic Adventure series, the colony planet of Tenembras would not have survived without the nuke plant that made the oxygen for them to breathe as the planet was populated with no live ecology. Dissidents were dumped there to die but the nuke plant was integral not only for O2 production but in getting galactic aide as well. Here’s a coffee cup I designed and had made at Zazzle back then:
Nuke power was dangerous but I worked it anyway. The new tech is not. Let the new tech nuke power team up with the solar, wind, hydro and other accepted power sources that cannot provide the amount of energy the new nukes can. The new nukes need to be part of the future’s energy mix.
The Lieutenant briefed the team and put me in charge. HooYAH! The job entailed performing a solidification of a submarine’s radioactive filtration resin while at sea. It seems the shore solidifiers could not keep up with the drums and drums of the radioactive resin such that warehouses were filling with them and the resins were partially caking up to make pouring it into the solidification drum would be very tough.
They set up the area at the lowest HP deck, worried about a spill? The method included having the dented resin drum on a holder rack that could tilt it up so it could pour into the new drum that had a stir bar in it. As the resin stirred, concrete powder would be sifted in via a PCV pipe with a steel bar twisted like a screw to move it in evenly.
The first trial! We checked all the parts twice and then once more. Commence! The resin poured in well. The concrete did not. Then the pipe broke, the steel had knotted up. The photo is the actual steel screw that was removed, decontaminated and painted black. Ahhh, the Dixon Auger Eaters!
We soon worked it out, got it done with a metal pipe at a better feed angle, did a few more, reported it and went about our business. About a month later I was called to the Captain’s office with officers all about the place watching.
As I stood at attention, the Captain stood to tell me to expect a ceremony in the morning at 1000 hours. I needed to get a clean and spiffy dress uniform ready as I would be present. Dismissed.
Yikes, where had my bravery run off to? A ceremony? Why tell only me and not everybody? Quit worrying and get the danged uniform ready and the shoes shined! While I busily buffed, the word did come over for all to hear.
The entire crew not on duty stood on the main deck in various formations to suit the equipment that could not be moved. All the officers certainly appeared clean and spiffy. I went to line up with my department. The Master Chief pointed forward and walked me to the center area where two older crewmen stood. They said nothing as a helicopter landed at the pier and an entourage boarded the ship. The Captain greeted them and they all arranged themselves in from of us.
One guy was called up for 30 years of service or some such, I admit to being more than a bit nervous. The Captain congratulated him and shook his hand. The other guy, the same. Then the Captain stepped back and the visitor fellow with tons of decorations on his uniform took the spot. He called my name. I forced myself not to shame the entire crew! I strode up and saluted perfectly. He saluted back. Being thin and tall, I didn’t mind standing at attention as long as I didn’t lock my knees.
I don’t recall all he said. His talk included hard work, ingenuity, teamwork, professionalism, saving the Navy millions of dollars and such. The solidification process we altered, tested and reported was transmitted across the Navy! His aide approached with a small box. He opened it a removed a medal suspended from a colorfully striped ribbon. Loudly he stated that I had earned the Navy Achievement Medal and the whole ship should be proud of me. Then he whispered, “I can’t reach into your shirt to pin it on. Here, you do it.” I did. The crew and visitors saluted me and I returned the honor. Without collapsing. I smiled at the Secretary of the Navy and got back in line with the 30 year guys. Lesson: I can stand up to anything!
Heartfelt thanks to all the veterans who have serve this wonderful United States of America. None of us are perfect, but when we need to, we shine! That includes many in my family, including my Sailor father who served on a minesweeper he called the Ellie Mae during the Korean Conflict and my Sailor uncle who served at Pearl Harbor and went on leave the day before the Japanese attack that started the Pacific’s WWII.
And, I can’t help it …
Hooray for the US Navy! Anchors aweigh!
After folly and fun in Australia, we yet had one more destination: Diego García, British Indian Ocean Territory, the most southern isle of the Chagos Archipelago off India’s southern tip, quite near the equator. We went to that horseshoe shaped coral atoll as it is strategically close to the Middle East; we were to service the ships. No storms, sunshine and glistening beaches, so all good? How about being stuck there for two solid months!
When we arrived, they had no dock could handle a ship our size. We set up a small boat to ferry those wanting to go ashore there and back, the last one back being at 1900 hours. Naturally I had to go see all I could! That’s when I found that half the coral atoll was off-limits as there one lived a community of natives that were chased off – an empty town. The Brits made the rules here and we had to follow them.
Our job there gave us new duties. We repaired subs that pulled up as well as ships, in fact many more ships than boats. Their reactor compartments were much larger and not a compacted as on a sub. Lots more room one them for sure. When I was not on duty, I checked out everything where I had been allowed. For example, watching a gigantic supply plane land on a thin strip of the island and needed special aid in stopping before running into the water!
I got the attention of a Brit officer who asked lots of questions about how I got to be where I was and didn’t I find it broiling hot here and all in between. A couple days later when I could return, I went to the beach seeking the Great White Sharks that were supposed to be thick as fleas here. That Brit walked up and I asked him why I saw none. Because I searched the inside of the atoll, they swarmed the perimeter! He offered to take me over to the north eastern side to enjoy the most pristine beach anywhere, sharks and tunes as he had Roxy Music to play, a new album I hadn’t heard!
As soon as I agreed, I smacked myself for running off to a remote location with a stranger, so far nobody could hear me scream. As we got in his Rover and headed out, told him about the karate lessons I’d been taking on the ship, a yellow belt achieved! We soon passed through part of the abandoned town and it felt haunted. In only about 20 or 30 minutes we arrived at the gorgeous white sand beach and he pulled out a basket with sandwiches in it. I’d forgotten about lunch! We did spot shark fins and distant sailboats and little crabs.
He put on the new Roxy Music album called Flesh and Blood which I bought as soon as I returned to the US. He told me about where he hailed from and then I had my turn at it. He said we had horse racing in common and laughed. The last song played and he put on something else. The name of that group slips my mind because soon after he pointed to the horizon and sternly said, “We must hurry back. That storm will be on us in no time at all!
We packed up all and when we got into the Rover, we turned to see the storm much closer. He gunned the engine, roaring up the barely visible path. In a few minutes, it began raining hammer-hard, the sky darkening ominously. A vicious stroke of lightening zapped a tree directly in front of us. We jumped, it fell, he rammed into it. He went out to check on damage and frowned; the front axle had broken. He strode over to the trees and chopped two long, sturdy sticks off. He handed me one. Had I heard of Coconut Crabs? Yes, they could crack a person’s skull open. They’re three feet side, weigh about 9 pounds, the largest crustations on the planet!
Soon those humungous tangerine-colored giant crabs gathered onto the path, blocking our way. We kept swinging those rods, knocking/shoving them right and left as fast as we could. It seemed we were taking a shortcut, however my big concern (other than the killer crabs) remained: I had to make that last ferry run or be in dire trouble. Soaked and worn to shreds, we made it to a heavily fenced and barbed wired facility bristling with antennae he called a weather station midway where a fellow was just about to leave. They spoke together a bit, then he gave us a ride all the way to the ferry boat that had held off leaving, hoping I’d be back. The driver left with the Brit quickly without speaking a word to me or even looking my way.
The Brit got in trouble for violating security regulations, I did not; my secret clearance maybe? I’ll always be thankful we could work together to not fall prey to those monster crabs! Since those days, Diego García has become an even more important base for the US, with new ship facilities, another airstrip and even submarine facilities plus who know what. Strategic place it is! I think I’ll play some Roxy Music…
TOMORROW: Talk About a BIGSHOT!
We went from Hawaii to Olongapo Phillipines and then headed to Sydney, Australia and everyone looked forward to that and made grand plans. This is until we felt the ship rocking in all directions more and more. Then the jarring, nauseating slamming. Some guys puked across the floor which made others feel sicker too.
Battle-ready ships have a sharp keel to stay steady when aiming their weapons. A repair ship has a rounded hull to be able to carry more tools and supplies, thus the sickening WHAMs. I forced a hatch open to see what the storm at sea looked like. Fascinating! I clutched the rail as the winds were very strong and got soaked quickly as I edged aft. The waves spewed like horizontal waterfalls and splashed wickedly each time was were lifted up a giant swell and then drop like tons of bricks after it passed.
I loved it! What an adventure! Looking to the portside I was worse turbulence, red skies and lots of lightening. I made it to the starboard. I nearly swooned at the glorious sunshine and neon affects off into the distance. A swell of inky, angry se then reared so high I could not see over or past it. I went to my knees and grabbed the rai as hard as I could. It crashed into the ship and tilted it sideways. Then I us running into one at least as huge, going to hit the prow yet coming from the starboard. The ship nearly turned sideways; I kept my grip as my body flew out behind me. As it leveled back, I forced my legs back under me so they would not slam onto the deck. It worked, seconds before the weird slam.
WOW! DOUBLE WOW! Still, it seemed a smart time to go back inside. Right inside the hatch stood the gedunk machine; now I knew why they’d bolted it to the bulkhead! I got a Zagnut bar and made my way carefully down a couple decks where most of the guys had gathered. When they saw me with a candy bar, I bet at least 50 of them puked on each other. I walked on, trying to keep balanced. How exhilarating! In the morning we discovered the storm had busted a rusted part of the hull through and we were sinking.
I roamed the ship as the crew patched the hole with sharpshooters around to repel the sharks. I thought of when the multistate hoard of tornadoes hit my hometown of Louisville Kentucky when I was yet in my early teens. I stood on the front concrete step of our rickety house and watched the tornado wrecking part of the Fairgrounds and whizzing further across the terrain with debris being flung all around. I noted one beginning to form very nearby, a sharp pointy, twisting tip and went into the front yard for a better view, entranced and nearly disappointed when the yellow, clouded sky took it back into its bosom. All that time, the radio blasted warnings and Mama screamed at me to crawl under the kitchen table with my bawling little sisters.
The proximity of that near tornado busted the balloon-diaphragm of my syrup bottle barometer I made for upcoming science fair. Lesson? I naturally do not fear even excess danger as anything but true excitement. By the way, I won that science fair.
TOMORROW: Diego García, BIOT
I’m posting four short and very true stories from today through Sunday about my life-changing years in the US Navy. I was the only Nuclear-Grade Machinist Mate woman that made it through boot camp in Orlando, MM A School in Waukegan, Nuke Power school part one back in Orlando and part two in Ballston Spa New York, then onto a ship – namely the USS Dixon AS-37.
You see, I could not be assigned to a war ship or boat as a female, however I got to see lots of submarine interiors as I worked with the guys on nuke system repairs! That was in Ballast Point, near San Diego. I left upstate New York to meet the Dixon in Pearl Harbor as it had already broken away from the dock after ten years simply floating there in Ballast Point to go on WestPac! So, I didn’t actually see the big Navy bases, ships and subs, until five months later.
The crew had been kept onboard for a day and a half, then as an angel bringing deliverance they got to go ashore just as I reported in for my HP duty, sort of like a quality assurance cake with radiation-laced icing on top. Some of the guys in the Heath Physics department invited me to go along with them to see what Pearl Harbor looked and sounded like that evening. I eagerly went! At Trader Vic’s I got my first ever alcoholic beverage, a Tiki Liki, and I still have that neato clay cup.
The next day we all set out early and they rented a car. It had rained but the sunlight that morning shined brilliantly. We crossed Oahu between volcanos and I saw the only triple rainbow I’ve ever witnessed. The brightest on top, the other two in parallel arcs below it. We pulled aside just to admire it. I took a picture but crapola, I can’t find it. We ended up on Waimea Bay and they went skinny dipping. No, I elected not to join them with that! I did move all their clothes way up the shoreline and then went exploring. They did find their clothes and me before leaving!
We drove all the way back around and opted for a supper club. Lucky us, we got a side front table by the stage where the band had already started talking to the crowd. We got the beers we ordered and sat back to listen to the Three Dog Night-ish band singing away. About halfway through my brew I needed to sneak off to the head…I mean ladies’ room.
I got partly there when the band stopped and stared at me. I hurried on and back, embarrassed by the folks all looking at me intently. I sat. The lead singer said, All right, then!” They resumed and for the rest of the time there I held it in! We had a few more beers, a great dinner that I do not remember (only that it was good) and then caught the last boat back to the ship. This is what life should be like?
Tomorrow: The Stormy Pacific!